Because the Bells are the most awesomest thing to photo, EVER! You can go there on even the dullest, grayest showery morning of September and still walk away with superb photos that will get 3 million likes on FB, and Peter Lik will beg you to hang your prints in his Aspen Gallery. Never mind that you will be elbow-to-elbow with 200 other photographers who share your undying love of the Bells, because the three inches between you and the guy-leading-the-workshop next to you will result in a slight angular difference that will make your photo your unique vision! 🙂
With no vacation time off from work this season, I had to make do with a weekend
which did not look too promising for a good sunrise. But, it looked like there was at least some chance of light Sunday morning before a storm moved in, so that was my target. With little time to plan, I stayed at a hostel Saturday night, then headed for the Maroon Bells at about 4:30 am. Since there had been a thunderstorm the night before, and the main area of rain was still on the way, I wasn’t very hopeful. But my main goal was to shoot some time lapse for a video I am working on, and the beauty of time lapse is that even overcast skies can be interesting when set in motion.
When I headed out from Maroon Lake, even in the darkness I could tell that there wasn’t much hope for spectacular sunrise light on the Bells. But there was a glimmer of light on the southeast horizon, which gave me some hope. My plan was to hike up to Crater Lake, about two miles and 1,000 feet above Maroon Lake. In my opinion, the views of North Maroon Peak and the Bells are superior from Crater–plus it gives one the option of shooting from more varied directions. There are few options from Maroon Lake, especially when you are surrounded by throngs of other photographers.
The hike up to Crater was quiet and peaceful. A couple of guys passed me on the way to climbing Pyramid Peak, one of the toughest 14,000 foot-plus mountains in Colorado to climb; they were seemingly unconcerned about the downhill trend in the weather. When I got to Crater with plenty of time to spare for sunrise, I was the only person up there. All the signs posted warning of bears in the area were a little unnerving, but I saw no signs of bears. As sunrise approached, it became clear that the higher clouds above would block most if not all of the sunrise light from hitting the Bells, so I shifted strategies and set up from the far side of Crater Lake looking east, where I could see the light was trying to break through at the horizon. Just before sunrise, there were more breaks in the clouds to the east, and the sky began to light up in hues of pink and then yellow. The reflections on the lake were ever-changing, and made for an exciting time lapse. I felt sorry for the mob down at Maroon Lake–they probably missed all of the excitement that was happening behind them as they focused on the gray skies above the Bells. The photo above was at peak color; without a second camera I was forced to halt my time lapse to grab a shot of the spectacular sunrise. As expected, a few rain drops started to fall as I made my way back down to the parking lot.
I didn’t come away with the ‘classic’ views of the Bells that draw the crowds to the area each year, but I was far from disappointed. I just hope my secret stays safe in the coming years, so I can continue to have Crater Lake all to myself!